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Saag Paneer is a vegetarian Indian curry that literally means “Spinach-Cheese”. It is bright and fresh (compared to many curries that are slowly simmered for hours), and a lovely lighter counterpoint to a rich Indian meal. I personally like to make it my main course, but hubby does not consider cheese a fair substitute for meat.

Have you tried paneer? I love it.

It’s a fresh cheese made simply by boiling whole milk, curdling it with lemon juice or vinegar, and straining it. The result is a creamy (but not too rich) block with a mild tang and nice, semi-crumbly texture. Interestingly, it is made exactly like ricotta! Because of this similarity, I tried this recipe out with both ricotta and its less-commonly available indian counterpart. Both were lovely, but the former just needs a bit of prep.

To get the ricotta to a a firm enough texture to cut in cubes, you’ll need to remove the excess moisture: line a strainer with cheesecloth (or a clean dish towel), pour in a tub of ricotta, pick up the edges of the cloth and squeeze the cheese to release as much moisture as you can. Then flatten it into a brick shape ( while still wrapped in the cheesecloth) and place it on the counter on top of paper towels. Put your heaviest pan on top to press it down, and let it drain for about an hour. (In the meantime, you can proceed with the rest of the recipe – the paneer only appears in the last step.) If you do go with ricotta vs. paneer, be very gentle with it once you stir it in – it’s a wee bit fragile (but rest assured, even if the cubes don’t stay perfect, it will still taste perfect!).

The biggest secret to Indian cooking that I have discovered is patience. You need to resist the urge to toss everything in together at the same time – the magic happens in stepwise fashion. Really take your time with the onions – they should be caramelized, not browned or just softened. This step alone makes or breaks a curry. Then add the garlic and ginger. Then the spices. Everything gets its turn in the hot oil (which is not used in particularly modest amounts – the fat makes a big difference to the flavour). And in the end, you need to season it well. A curry without enough salt will simply not taste good.

Ghee, if you’re not familiar with it, is just butterfat. Butter is boiled and the milk solids are removed, leaving a toasty, delicious golden oil.The grocery stores in my area are well stocked with ethnic foods, so I have it on hand – but you can just use butter (or make your own!).

The only other ingredient I thought might need explaining is fenugreek – a wonderful Indian spice that is a big component of what we non-Indians call “Curry Powder”.So if you can’t find fenugreek, use the curry powder you can get at any grocery store. It’ll still be delicious, promise.

If you’re in Vancouver, I get my Indian ingredients at No Frills (on 4th and Pine – they have lots of spices, paneer, ghee), at Whole Foods (Cambie – they carry a good number of spices, ghee) or at Punjab Foods (Little India – 49th & Main – they have everything!).

Saag Paneer {Spinach Curry}

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Main Course
Indian

Ingredients
  

  • 16 oz frozen spinach
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 4 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 1 inch piece of ginger finely minced or grated
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp fenugreek powder or curry powder
  • 3 tbsp cream or yogurt
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt or more, to taste
  • 12 oz paneer or drained ricotta in 1/2 inch cubes

Instructions
 

  • Place frozen spinach in a blender or food processor, drizzling it with the boiling water as you go so it wilts and you can fit it all in. Process until very finely chopped, but not pureed. Set aside.
  • Heat ghee or butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook, stirring often, until very soft and golden - 20-25 minutes. Reduce the heat if onions are browning - low and slow is the goal.
  • Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the turmeric, cumin and fenugreek powder and cook 1 minute more. Stir in the spinach, bring to a simmer, then add cream or yogurt, lemon juice and salt to taste. Gently stir in paneer and heat through.
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